R v BM [2018]

R v BM [2018] EWCA Crim 560 addressed the legal stance on the defence of consent in situations involving actual bodily harm resulting from body modification.

The defendant, identified as BM, was a tattooist who performed extreme body modifications, such as the removal of a customer's ear, nipple, and the division of a customer's tongue to create a reptilian effect. The charges against BM included wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm under Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. During the trial, the judge ruled that consent could not be considered a valid defence in this context. BM subsequently appealed the decision, contending that the procedures were consensual.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, affirming that consent does not provide a defence under Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 when the actions result in actual bodily harm or more severe injuries. The ruling emphasised the general rule established in R v Brown (Anthony) [1994], which holds that consent does not excuse violence causing actual bodily harm or more severe injuries.

The judgment, delivered by Lord Burnett CJ, highlighted the nature of exceptions to the general rule. Exceptions are typically based on discernible social benefit or cases where criminalising certain conduct would be deemed unreasonable due to long-accepted practices, such as tattooing, piercing, or religious practices like circumcision.

In the present case, the court found no proper analogy between body modification and accepted practices like tattooing or body piercing. It was noted that the modifications performed by BM amounted to medical procedures carried out without medical justification by an individual lacking the necessary qualifications. The court cited policy reasons, including the potential profound and long-term consequences of body modifications and the vulnerability of individuals seeking such procedures to mental illness.

In summary, this case illustrates that an individual's personal autonomy does not extend to involving others in actions that would otherwise constitute a crime.
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